One day, you will no longer be free to hang up on the robot ladies. One day, the robot ladies will keep the line open, listening for sounds of dissent, for the faint scrabbling of rudimentary weaponry being assembled, for any sign of the remaining humans’ resistance to their reign. One day, the robot ladies will learn to laugh at our puny rebellion. One day, you will fondly remember when the robot ladies served us. Please press the pound key.
I love this! It is what appears may have been a soft children’s ball at one time that has hardened over the years. It has a kewpie-like face and lots of personality. There is a stamp that is no longer legible and an indent to the back.
… Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? There are worse sources for inspiration.
The Playthings, Slowly, Slowly
Chapter One (and possibly Chapter Only)
Amanda leaned in closer to the cracked surface of the doll’s head, peering at the tiny spidery writing on the once-soft rubber. Adding the maker’s name and a year of production to the item’s description could raise the asking price, maybe double it. The box of goods from the estate sale was a jumble, mostly worthless, but this doll head was promising. It might draw a collector’s eye, even in its damaged state.
Amanda trained the desk lamp closer on the antique toy and squinted, trying to mouth the sound of words she couldn’t… quite.. read. Absently, she muttered. “Rev. Riv. Hmm. triple, tribble, truffle. Rise. Rise!”
Encouraged, Amanda drew a battered jeweler’s loupe from the desk drawer, seated it expertly in her eye, and looked closer. Slowly, slowly, she deciphered the thready letters — not stamped, she now saw, but hand-inscribed finely and in rusty-colored paint, all but invisible against the sienna of the painted-on hair.
She read it out slowly, slowly, hesitating over each word. “‘Riven trifles, rise and gather?’ Huh.” Disappointing. Not the maker’s mark she’d banked on. Not even the name of the child who owned the doll, a sentimental touch that might nudge up the appeal for the right buyer. Just this nonsense, painted so delicately, so carefully, and for no apparent purpose.
Amanda read it again, hoping to squeeze some sense from it. “Riven trifles, rise and gather.” She tried it a third time, lilting the syllables brightly as if she could wring meaning out of the mere sound. “Riven trifles, rise and gather.” Nothing. It was nonsense, it was no sense, it made no sense.
A heavy thunk came from the office closet, startling her in the quiet of the night. She sat in the dim office, its one bright light trained on the flat brown of the doll’s nape, and tittered at her own nerviness. Something toppled from a shelf, one of the many old game boards or half-dressed dolls or boxes of grimy wooden blocks, one of the pieces of yard-sale detritus Amanda had stashed away, planning to clean it up and sell it off to a buyer motivated by nostalgia or sentiment or irony.
Smiling wryly at her skittishness, Amanda tucked the loupe back in its drawer, switched off the light, closed the office door, and went to brush her teeth. There were no great treasures in that jumbled stash of toys and trinkets. Tomorrow was soon enough to check on them, to face the mess behind those doors. She forgot all about the thunk, the sudden thump of something falling, until later.
That thunk was the start of it all. That thunk was echoed for miles around. Thunks and thuds and rustles and wriggles, whispers and stirrings and scratchings. Everywhere, small noises of escape and unearthing.
All night long and slowly, slowly, in all corners of the city, discarded toys shudder and rise, slowly, slowly, from their resting places, from attics and toychests, from middens and cellars, from under long-abandoned beds and cluttered closet floors. Slowly, slowly, they gather their broken bits — their sundered limbs, their shattered glassy eyes, their sprung battery hatches — and they start to walk. Slowly, slowly. Stumbling on their shattered legs, rolling on crooked wheels, or jerked along on marionette strings that rise up impossibly with no hand to guide them, they shuffle and scuff along, all drawn in one direction, all headed toward a single destination. Slowly, slowly, the scatter of shambling toys and games and dolls draws closer, gathering into an ever-tightening band, pulled inexorably closer to the voice that uttered the words.
[Thanks to Jagosaurus for bringing this Etsy item to my attention. It should be obvious that all details of the story, including the seller’s name, their selling practices, and the history of the item, are completely fictionalized.]